29 May 2024

Explainer: What is 'All Eyes on Rafah' and why has it gone viral?

7:20 pm on 29 May 2024
An AI image designed to raise awareness about the situation in Rafah has been shared millions of times on social media.

An AI image designed to raise awareness about the situation in Rafah has been shared millions of times on social media. Photo: Instagram / @InsiderWorld_1

Anyone with a social media account has most likely come across the phrase "All Eyes on Rafah", but what's the story behind the slogan?

It has been circulating on social media in recent months, but has significantly gained momentum globally over the past few weeks.

The phrase was searched on Google in New Zealand more than 10,000 times yesterday.

On social media, an AI template image with the phrase "All Eyes on Rafah" surrounded by tents in a desert setting has been shared almost 32 million times, and the hashtag #alleyesonrafah has featured on videos viewed millions of times on TikTok.

Activists and humanitarian groups are using the phrase to draw the world's attention to the plight of Palestinian people in Gaza.

Israel has continued its offensive in the city of Rafah, now reportedly reaching the heart of the city, despite the large civilian population and international outcry.

Where is Rafah?

Rafa's location on the Gaza Strip.

Rafa's location (in red) on the Gaza Strip. Photo: Wikipedia

Rafah is situated in the far-south of the Gaza strip. It borders Egypt and had been a place many Palestinians had fled to at the start of the conflict, to escape Israeli bombardment.

As many as 1.4 million people were thought to be in the city earlier this year.

However, since Israel began its operation in and around Rafah three weeks ago, the UN has estimated more than a million people have now left the city, to once again try and escape the fighting.

On Sunday night local time, an Israeli airstrike caused a fire at a camp for the displaced, killing dozens of people, many of whom were women and children.

Israel said it was investigating and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labelled the situation a "tragic incident".

Since then, Israel has been accused of another strike on a camp, west of Rafah, killing another 21 Palestinians.

Emergency services in Gaza said tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi, a place where Israel had told Palestinians to move to to escape fighting in Rafah.

Israel has denied striking al-Mawasi.

Last week, the UN's Court of Justice issued a ruling for Israel to halt it military offensive in Rafah.

Why is the phrase "All Eyes on Rafah" so successful?

Professor of Marketing Analytics at Massey University Dr Bodo Lang said the situation in Gaza was complicated and it could be difficult for people to agree on a stance.

"But what is really easy to agree on is that innocent civilians have been killed, and as a result it illicits really strong emotions. The slogan allows people to share their values in a really socially acceptable manner."

Lang said when strong emotions were involved, something was more likely to go viral.

He described the statement as having "message fluency," meaning the slogan was easy to understand.

He also noted that post like this could give people a sense of agency, when they felt they had little control over what was happening in the world right now.

Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 25, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 25 May. Photo: EYAD BABA/AFP

Why an AI image?

Dozens of images have emerged from Rafah, some of them very graphic in nature, including those who have been seriously injured and killed in the violence.

Lang said the appeal of the AI image was that it conveyed the message of hope.

"If you want anything to go viral, it needs to have an emotional appeal and generally speaking positive emotions are more powerful than negative emotions.

"So I think using an AI generated image can be really useful for side-stepping those strong negative emotions."

Can a social media post make a difference?

There has been strong international pressure on Israel on its offensive in Rafah, with social media users urging leaders around the world to do more to stop the violence.

But can a social media post really make a difference? Lang thinks so, and said there were lots of examples to back this up.

"There are many examples of how social movements started on a small scale. You could go back to to how American slavery was abolished, it arguably goes back to a book written by a woman.

"You can also look at Black Lives Matter, climate change, Greta Thunberg and Ukraine support."

He said a phrase was a beautiful way to get a social movement going, before lobbying politicians.

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